KU study shows doctors who sit during visits perceived better by patients

Sitting down on the job has its advantages. New data from the KU Hospital finds that patients perceive doctors who sit down during their hospital room visits stay longer than doctors who stand during the visit – even when doctors who sit don’t stay as long as doctors who stand.

The study found that doctors, when standing, spent an average of one minute, 28 seconds with the patient but were perceived as staying average time of three minutes and 44 seconds. Conversely, when doctors sat down during their visits, patients perceived them as spending more than five minutes in the room, even though the average sit-down visit was just over one minute — a shorter amount of time than the stand-up visits. Based on the results of this study, doctors who sat during their visit were perceived by patients as spending 40 percent more time in the room.

“I remember being taught in medical school that you should always sit down when speaking with a patient because it will seem like you are staying in the room longer,” says study author Paul M. Arnold, director of the KU Hospital’s Spinal Cord Injury Center. “Unfortunately, there isn’t any data to back up that claim which is why we embarked on this study.”

As a result of the increased perceived length of time with the physician, patients are more satisfied with their care and report a better understanding of their condition, when the physician sits during the visit. When the physician is seated, 95 percent of patients’ post-visit comments are positive. However, when the physician stands, only 61 percent of the patient comments are positive.

When patients think the doctor is in the room longer, they express a better understanding of their condition and greater satisfaction with their care, which can be factors in decreased lengths of stay, decreased costs, improved clinical outcomes and decreased litigation.

Researchers stress that, while sitting can impact patient perception, it does not take the place of good communications skills.

“Communication skills are taught at 65 percent of medical schools across the country, including The University of Kansas,” Arnold said. “This survey provides the exact type of qualitative and quantitative data that we need to support teaching these skills. Taking the time to listen and respond to patient concerns is a significant part of this job. At the end of the day, whether you sit or stand, what’s most important is that the patient receives the best possible care.”

The data is based on a prospective, randomized, controlled study conducted at The KU Hospital among post-operative neurosurgical inpatients.

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